Thanksgiving weekend, October 10 – 12, 2015. No doubt everyone had their own personal reasons for wanting to be in this place at this time, it was after all, a time to give thanks. Reflecting upon the past 12 months gave this writer reasons to be especially grateful…..but the official reason for this gathering was to share a turkey dinner on Sunday October 11th at 5:00 p.m. precisely.
We were an interesting mix, both friends and strangers, it was a shared interest in wilderness paddling that brought us together. Two kayakers, one solo canoeist and eight paddlers in tandem canoes. All but one of us had been to this place before, some many times, and at all times of the year. The chatter never stopped, talk of past trips both here and elsewhere, comments about gear, observations about the weather. There was no politics, no gossip, lots of good natured joking and laughter….it was all refreshingly positive.
A shared outdoors adventure like this one both deepens established relationships and initiates new friendships. Working together on shared tasks towards a common goal contributes to this process. Dealing with the unexpected, looking out for one another, helping in any way possible very quickly turned this “interesting mix” of adults into a true group.
We didn’t all travel to this spot together.
Some had left on Saturday, thinking that it would be an idyllic 4 -5 hour paddle, put- in at 10:00 a.m., arrive by 3:00 p.m., set up camp, have supper, visit around the wood heater and then hit the hay. But mother nature does have a way of changing things, in this case it was in the form of a formidable and relentless headwind. The 4 – 5 hour paddle only got these two tandem canoes about 2/3 of the way to their destination. Fortunately there are lots of beautiful camping spots and there was lots of time until Sunday at 5:00 p.m. precisely, so these four paddlers set up camp right where they were, had a great supper, lit a fire in the fire pit and then made a beeline for their tents at about 8:00 p.m. when the skies opened and the rains came down in a big way, for much of the night.
One kayaker was on his 19th trip to this spot, he was paddling solo and taking the long way. This fellow was a very experienced paddler, he had stories to share about his experiences on rivers that most of us had only dreamed or read about. At the start of this adventure he was friends with only one other member of this group; by the end he had kindled 9 new friendships. He put-in on the Wednesday and had a good trip, arriving on the Saturday, he had met no-one else en route. He commented that the water was high, that there was a strong current in the river. We all felt he deserved a medal for he had committed some of his precious cargo space to two bottles of wine and a can of cranberry sauce as his contribution for the meal.
One couple in a tandem canoe and another solo kayaker left at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, taking the short 4-5 hour route to the take-out. It was a glorious autumn day. It was definitely warm fleece and nylon windbreaker weather, but there was sunshine and it even occasionally offered just a little warmth. This group made good time, despite the remnants of the previous day’s headwinds…..it really wasn’t bad at all….in fact in was fantastic! They arrived at the final destination about an hour after the folks who had camped out on the Saturday night. As they approached the take-out, from a distance it looked like there were a string of Buddhist prayer flags blowing in the breeze but as this group drew closer, it was clear that it was a colourful mix of flys, tents, and groundsheets, hanging from clotheslines and drying in the substantial wind.
Another fellow had also taken the long route, he had no schedule apart from the fact that his goal was to get to this place by Sunday at 5:00 p.m. precisely for Thanksgiving turkey. He had meandered, occasionally even retracing some of the route he had just paddled, but then paddling on the opposite side of the lake, just to see something different. He had done this trip several times before. It was his way of unwinding after a very busy summer tourist season working as a street actor at Barkerville. He had arrived on Saturday night.
The final couple also put-in on Sunday morning, but from a different spot than the other Sunday paddlers. They also experienced the glorious Sunday fall weather and when they rounded the point leading to the campsite about 3:00 p.m., our group was complete.
The season seemed to be advanced, more so than past trips taken at this same time of year. The leaves were totally gone from the birch and other deciduous trees. In the past the birch especially provided a glorious golden backdrop for the green coniferous trees. We saw no moose…..none. In the past we took moose sightings for granted. On some trips it was obvious that we had arrived during the rutting season, but this was not the case this year. We saw the last of the Canada Geese getting ready to head south along with a few lingering ducks. The song birds had certainly left although some raptors were sailing in the wind currents overhead. Those who took the long route said that they had seen otters. The weather was above freezing and there was no snow.
We all agreed that “everything has been early this year.” This indeed did seem to be the case. A group had paddled out to this spot in April, the ice was completely gone from the lakes, there was no snow remaining on the ground, not even in the shady areas, this was very unusual. In April the migrating birds already seemed to have passed through on their journey northward. No-one had ever before travelled out to this spot on the water in April and even then it was agreed that “everything has been early this year.”
Turkey with all the trimmings, it rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? This was a fantastic meal by almost any standard. As a wilderness-heated-and-cooked-on-the-wood- heater-meal, it was off the scale. Even as a big city fancy restaurant meal it would have rated right up there. It was a fabulous group effort.
On Sunday October 11th at almost 5:00 p.m. precisely we began the feast.
The appetizers were a nicely flavoured Swedish meatball….there were lots of them, it would have been possible to fill up completely on the appetizers alone. Those responsible for the appetizers acted as gracious hosts and hostesses, circulating throughout the cook shelter to ensure that everyone was getting their share. There were even appys on the table throughout the main course.
The actual seating arrangements consisted of two park picnic tables drawn together, bright red Dollarama plastic table cloths gave the two tables a nice look of continuity and cleanliness. On an adjacent table, the food was laid out smorgasbord style in an array of various camping pots, pot lids and dishes, with assorted serving spoons, forks and spatulas.
Did I mention that there was turkey? The turkey had been pre-cooked and sliced, there was both white and dark meat. It was re-heated in a dutch oven over charcoal briquettes and was served at its sizzling perfection from a mélange of fire blackened pots and tin foil. , The turkey was made complete with a made-from-scratch stuffing, lots of gravy and a delicious cranberry sauce. The new potatoes were cooked in situ over the wood heater, in a large frying pan along with baby carrots. It was all eyes on the pan as slowly these vegetables reached that point of succulence. Another very special vegetable was prepared on the spot, mouths watered as yet another master chef prepared a large pot of shredded savoy cabbage garnished with olive oil, garlic, chili pepper and sea salt. In addition to these cooked vegetables, there was a very substantial green salad served with or without feta cheese and with a salad dressing. The meal was complemented with a selection of fine hearty breads and was topped off with home made pumpkin pie (the pie filling had been mixed with a hint of ginger) and whipped cream…..and always there were the Swedish meatballs and of course the white wine that had made it to this feast via the long route in the hatch of a sea kayak.
There are actually two contiguous lakes on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit that are shown on early maps simply as Spectacle Lakes. More modern maps refer to both lakes as though they were one…..Spectacle Lake. If you imagine these two lakes as actually being a pair of spectacles, then Pat’s Point is located right at the “bridge” of these spectacles. It is a beautiful sandy point of land that is often referred to as “the Riviera of the Bowron”.
Even on this trip the question of just how this point received its name came up. This point of land was not named on Thomas McCabe’s 1925 map of the Bowron Chain which would suggest that the name is most likely a fairly recent one. It has been suggested that it was named after Pat McKenna, who apparently had early title to this spectacular jewel, before this area was gazetted as a Park on June 29, 1961.
In the 1950’s and early 60’s two families, the Pavich’s and the Halverssons (who are related by marriage) had a very real presence on what is now known as the West Side of the Bowron Chain. Paul Pavich and Eugene Krause purchased land from Joe Wendle and with the help of log builder Erik Rask, they were responsible for the construction of the log cabin located on the bank of the Upper Bowron River which today serves as a Park shelter cabin. While this cabin was under construction, the workers lived in the nearby 1926 Wendle cabin , which today teeters precariously over the eroded river bank. While it isn’t immediately evident to paddlers, these cabins are actually located on an island, which is now known as Pavich Island.
In the late 1950’s, Vinse Halversson and Sid Dannhauer (who were brothers-in-law) purchased the area now known as Pat’s Point and with their families they constructed a frame cottage that today is the shelter cabin located right on the point adjacent to the main campground. As plans unfolded for the development of the Park after 1961, most of the private property lying within the Park was expropriated and this cabin served as accommodation for “government workers” and as the Ranger Cabin or administrative centre for the West Side of the Park.
This changed in 1980 following the completion of a brand new Ranger cabin located across the water from the main Pat’s Point campsite. This Ranger cabin was constructed by Bowron Lake pioneers Frank and Tim Cushman. Together they harvested the large building logs right on site and using muscle provided by their draft horses, this significant building, that was really much more than just a “cabin” emerged from the very land upon which it stood. This was only 35 years ago, and now this building, which was the newest log structure on the Chain is gone, having been cut up for firewood, with no attempt having been made to even document its provenance.
If only the trees and the sandy beaches could talk, they would tell us of the use of this area by First Nations people going back hundreds of years. They would tell us tales of the early trappers, among them were Kenneth McLeod, Neil Wilson (Swamp Angel), Jason Moxley, Marius Anderson and Fred Becker. They would reflect on the names associated with the era of the big game hunters, names like Joe Wendle, Frank Kibbe, Floyd DeWitte Reed and Dean Cochran. They would make mention of the pioneer naturalists who were drawn to this area, Thomas and Elinor McCabe, J.P. Babcock, Chief Justice Hunter and Joe and Betty Wendle. These were the people who advocated for the establishment of what was known as the Barkerville Game Preserve in 1926, (which actually protected all of the land that was inside the chain of lakes). They would tell us of the heady days when Wells was a booming hardrock mining town and on the weekends these miners, many of whom were members of the Wells Rod and Reel Club, would flock out to “the Bowron” for fishing and relaxation,. They would whisk past Pat’s Point in their motorboats en route to their enclave of rustic shake shelters located on Unna Lake. With time they actually established a crude wooden “railroad” over the portage trails between Spectacle Lakes and Babcock Lake, and with government encouragement, they even blasted a canal between Spectacle Lake and Skoi Lake. With names like Gilbert, McKelvie, Motherwell and Grady, these families are still active members of the communities of Wells and Quesnel.
This past Thanksgiving, we felt like privileged royalty, alone in our own private preserve, heirs to all that has gone before us in this very special and truly unique place.